(Reuters) - A small aboriginal community in Canada’s Northwest Territories is crafting laws that would normally be imposed by higher authorities as it forges ahead on a path of self-governance some 20 years in the making.
Deline’s population of 500 had been working toward self-rule since 1995, negotiating with federal and territorial authorities and holding its own ratification vote before officially achieving independence on Sept. 1.
According to Deline’s Final Self-Government Agreement, the community can regulate liquor and gaming, language usage, education, health services, welfare and land planning.
Deline, whose name is pronounced with three syllables, is still adjusting to its new status, but it hopes to have its own laws in place by the end of the year, said Raymond Tutcho, the community’s elected leader.
“There’re too many leaders making decisions for our people,” said the 61-year-old grandfather of 10.
Deline is located at about the same latitude as Iceland, on 80 hectares (200 acres) of short houses and unruly grass. Its name means “where the waters flow,” a reference to Great Bear Lake, which lies to the east.
Tutcho’s title, “Ekwatide,” means “highest honest leader” in the Deline Got’ine dialect, which he says is the first language of 90 percent of the community. It is an official language in Deline along with English.
Tutcho said the desire for self-governance was inspired in part by the late aboriginal prophet Louis or Lewis Ayah, also known as Ehtseo, who died in 1940 and has a cabin devoted to him on the western edge of town.
According to a guide for teachers in the Northwest Territories, Ayah said outsiders making decisions for the community would bring changes for the worse.
“Whatever you do, do not change your lifestyle,” he was quoted as saying. “If you do, you will be sorry later.”
Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod said in a statement that Deline was an “inspiration.”
Canada has signed 22 self-government agreements recognizing jurisdictions involving 36 aboriginal communities and is negotiating others, according to a fact sheet from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
“Lands and resources under the control of these Aboriginal governments are more attractive to investors,” the agency said. “ ... As a result, greater prosperity for Aboriginal people and a more promising future for all Canadians may be achieved.”
Reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn